WHAT'S THE LAW?
Tenant lacks receipt for cash payment
: I got court papers from my landlord, who is trying to evict me. He claims I owe him rent, but I've always paid on time. A few months ago, I had a bunch of cash, so I used it to pay rent. I gave it to my landlord while he was out in the parking lot of my building, so I didn't get a receipt. Now he is claiming I never paid for that month. I've never been to court before, and I'm scared of being evicted. What should I do?
Answer: From Legal Aid housing attorneys, with the assistance of paralegal Tatjana Johnson: Your experience is a hard way to learn an important lesson: Never pay rent in cash; pay by check or money order so you have proof of payment. If you must pay in cash, always get a receipt.
Now that you have received court papers, read them carefully. The "complaint" and "summons" are the first court papers you receive in the eviction process. In the complaint, your landlord can ask for repossession of your rental unit, money that you owe for rent or any other charges, money for damage to the rental unit, and reimbursement for court costs and attorney's fees. The summons lets you know when to appear for the "answer hearing" where you will be able to tell the judge whether you agree or disagree with what your landlord has said in the complaint.
Be early to the answer hearing, and check in with the court clerk. When your case is called, let the judge know that you deny the allegations in the complaint and ask for a trial.
Before the trial, the court will usually send you and your landlord to a mediator to try and reach a settlement. If you do not reach a settlement, then you will proceed to the "trial for possession," where a judge will decide the case based on evidence, testimony and exhibits presented during the trial. Your landlord has the burden of proving that you did not pay rent. To support your case, present all the evidence you can think of to demonstrate that you paid. For example, ask someone who saw you hand the landlord the money to be your witness in court; or if you deposited money into a bank account and then withdrew for the rent, use your withdrawal receipt as evidence.
Legal Aid Society of Hawaii operates statewide. Practice areas include housing, public benefits, consumer and family law but not criminal law. For information, call 536-4302. Submit questions by e-mail to email@example.com
or by U.S. mail to Legal Aid Q&A, 924 Bethel St., Honolulu, HI 96813.